May 20, 2011

Molten chocolate cake

Remember when I said that I was ready for a chocolate cake any time of day/year?  I really meant it.  Whatever the season, there is always time for chocolate in my book.  It's imperative to a balanced lifestyle.

Once in a while, I want to go for something a little richer, a bit more decadent.  I go for a molten chocolate cake.  Chances are, you've ordered one of these before in a restaurant since it became popular in the U.S. starting in the late 80's.  It might come under the guise of warm chocolate cake or lava cake or even chocolate soufflé cake (though I get a little upset when it arrives and it's not an actual soufflé) but it's essentially that small individual moist chocolate cake you get that when you break into, a little flow of warm liquid chocolate oozes out. 
For whatever reason, I like to eat these cakes at night.  My husband and I have a habit of having date night at home about once a month.  I'll cook dinner or very often, he brings something home after work on a Friday night and once our little guy is asleep, we can eat and really chat leisurely.  When we're short on time, it's great to have a couple of these chocolate cakes and sit down together and talk over dessert.  It's the kind of cake you sit down at the table to enjoy.  The cake doesn't last long but you can linger over a cup of tea or coffee.

Molten chocolate cake can be quite rich.  The recipe I've been using for the past few years is not overly decadent but certainly more than indulgent enough.  Each individual cake uses a reasonable one tablespoon of butter (I've seen recipes using a lot more) and I've tweaked the amount of chocolate I use a bit so that it's more reasonable but you still get plenty of chocolate goodness.  Best part is these cakes are relatively easy to make.  In fact, I rarely order these in a restaurant anymore unless there is no other chocolate dessert alternative.  There are recipes out there that require whipping egg whites separately and folding them into a whipped egg and sugar mixture.  I'm happy to report this recipe is far simpler and the result is just as good.  I guess it's just like in life...there are many ways to get to the same place.

This recipe makes 4 individual cakes, filled into about 6-ounce ramekins.  You can buy some disposable tins for this if you don't have ramekins or want to skip clean up.  Even if you don't need 4 cakes, you can make the batter and store it in the refrigerator for another day and just bring it back up to room temperature before you bake them.  It's pretty cool to have a couple of these on standby in the fridge.  I would normally do this but since we've got plenty of dessert on the agenda, I decided to just make 2 to share with my husband this time (my son doesn't know he missed out on these).

Start off by prepping your ramekins.  Butter them well and then coat with sugar, tapping out any excess.  I used to just eat these cakes straight out of the ramekins but they can be flipped out pretty easily onto a plate for a nicer presentation.
We're going to use our stand mixer.  Beat the room temperature butter and sugar together to incorporate air and get it nice and fluffy.  Once this is done and the butter mixture turns very pale yellow, the eggs get added one at a time, incorporating well after each.

Next step, the flour and bit of salt are added and mixed until just combined.  Do not overmix!  I've made this recipe so many times but I must've been spaced out the last time I did this and overmixed it.  The result was a very rubbery cake and such a waste of good chocolate.  Ironically, my son kept chowing down and telling me "I like it, mommy" while I was telling him it didn't come out right and he didn't need to eat anymore if he didn't want to.  I guess a 5-year old might not be able to tell the difference or mind too much but believe me, you will. 
The mixture may look a bit lumpy but that's not a problem.  Once the warm chocolate is added, it will smooth out.  I remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the chocolate by hand since I don't want to risk overmixing with the beaters.
You end up with a nice puffy, pudding-like batter.  At this point, you can place the batter into the prepared ramekins and pop them in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until the cakes are just set, the tops are no longer runny.  I like a lot of runny "lava" from the cake so I tend to take them out of the oven sooner rather than later but it depends on your preference.  Alternatively, you can place the ramekins in the refrigerator to store for a later time.  Just take the cakes out of the fridge and let them come back up to room temperature before baking.  I find that when I do this, I may have to raise the baking time a couple of minutes so check on them and assess the situation. 
Once you remove the cakes from the oven, let them sit for about 10 minutes.  The cakes can set and the insides will continue to cook a little bit.  When cooled, you can turn them out onto plates.  Just run a knife around the edge of the ramekin and flip them over.  Then, break into them and watch that chocolate seep out.
I highly recommend some vanilla ice-cream to go with the cakes.  The cold ice-cream is a great contrast against the warm gooey, pudding-like center.
It doesn't take long to polish one of these off.  It's probably not something you'd want every night since it is on the rich side but enjoy it when you do have it.  Feeling guilty about it is a waste of time. 
I'm totally regretting not making 4 of these...

*Update:  I love to make and eat this cake!  It's one of my all-time favorites and really hits the spot every time I crave a serious chocolate dessert.  Here's how the cake looks a little more set up.  This was dessert for Valentine's Day.  The center is ready to collapse to reveal that flow of rich chocolate goodness.
**Update #2 (September 7, 2014): This is still one of my absolute favorite desserts!  I make it fairly often and I recently took to using a slightly different method of making the batter.  I've noticed for a while that the method I used, where I cream the butter first, is different from the majority of recipes that call for more of a whisking technique.  So I used the same ingredients but switched up the technique so that you don't use the stand mixer and it's more of a hands-on mixing/whisking process. I think it's actually a bit easier this way.  Moreover, I sometimes noticed teeny bits of egg in my cake from the creaming method and this "new" method seems to eliminate that problem.  I have adjusted the recipe to show both ways.

The recipe:

Molten Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Martha

- Yields 4 individual servings -

6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 teaspoon of instant espresso powder (optional)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, and more for ramekins
1/3 cup sugar, and more for ramekins
3 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees if you're planning to bake the cakes right away.

Prepare four ramekins, custard cups, or disposable tins by buttering each well and coating with sugar all around.  Tap out excess sugar.

Creaming method (using stand mixer)
Melt chocolate, with espresso powder if using, in a bowl set over a pan of just simmering water (or carefully in a microwave).  Let cool slightly.

Place butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until fluffy and mixture turns a very pale yellow.  Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each.  Turn speed down to low and beat in flour and salt until combined - do not overmix or you will have a rubbery cake!  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add melted chocolate, folding it in by hand using a rubber spatula until just combined - again, do not overmix.

Pour batter into the 4 prepared ramekins.  You can store these in the refrigerator but bring the batter back to room temperature before baking.  Place cakes into the preheated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the tops are just set.  Let the cakes sit for about 10 minutes once out of the oven.  To remove the cakes, run a knife around the edge of the ramekins and turned them out onto a plate.  Serve with ice-cream and enjoy!

Alternate Mixing Method (whisking by hand - see Update #2 above):
Melt chocolate and butter, with espresso powder if using, in a bowl set over a pan of just simmering water (or carefully in the microwave).  Let cool slightly.  

In a medium-size bowl, whisk eggs together with the sugar until foamy and about doubled in volume. Add chocolate and whisk together.  Add flour and salt mixture and fold in using a rubber spatula until just combined.  Avoid overmixing once flour is added.  

Transfer to prepared ramekins and bake as directly above.  


  1. Just tried this recipe and they came out just so so so delicious and perfect,thx for sharing the recipe :-)

    1. So happy to hear that! Thanks for taking the time to let me know. This is one of our favorites and I make it all the time. : )



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